NEW DELHI: Old warhorses, family fights and bouts of local politicking are heating up Himachal Pradesh, where elections will be held in less than 10 days — dwarfed not by the hills that loom over the state, but the bitter battle on the western front.
It’s almost as if both the Congress and the BJP, locked in a direct fight (with the Left/CPI-M playing a distant third fiddle), want to quickly get Himachal out of the way, so as to focus on the ‘real fight’ in Gujarat.
More so the Congress, which has virtually willed the hill state over to 83-year-old defending chief minister Virbhadra Singh, betting on his ability — perhaps in a resigned the mood — to pull it off against all odds.
Compared to Congress de facto chief Rahul Gandhi’s single rally in the state till date, BJP chief Amit Shah has addressed three, buttressed by two of PM Narendra Modi’s.
Lampooning takes up a large part of the election rhetroic. The Congress is being termed “a laughing club’’, steeped in corruption, by everyone from the PM downwards. The BJP, on the other hand, is being projected as a ‘’jumlabaaz’’, with a poor track record in handling the economy — and not well placed to talk about corruption, having inducted Sukh Ram.
Rahul Gandhi will have one more rally in Chamba on November 6, in the crucial Kangra Valley, which accounts for a big (and often decisive) cluster of 15 seats in the 68-member Himachal Assembly. But that’s really at the fag end of the campaign. A stronghold of BJP veteran Shanta Kumar, the Congress had managed to sweep the last assembly poll thanks to its fair showing in Kangra.
But Shah, true to his style of election management, seems to have done some precision strikes in Himachal. Lest a disgruntled Shanta Kumar, 83, spoils the party’s chance of bouncing back, Shah has doled out quite a few tickets to the people close to the Himachal veteran. This pre-emptive strategy has earned him the veteran’s gratitude.
Similarly, in the Mandi area where the Congress has always had an edge, the induction of Sukh Ram and his son Anil Sharma, former Congress minister disturbs existing equations. The move may not have gone down well with the BJP rank and file, and has even hobbled the party’s campaign focus on ‘corruption’ and the flourishing ‘mafia’ in Virbhadra’s regime, but it has put the Congress in a spot in that area.
Lastly, there was the bitter contest that BJP strongman Prem Kumar Dhumal was facing in Hamirpur to tackle — the demoralised workers close to him had to be energised. The BJP used to fight without a CM face — which had become a point of mockery from the Congress. But Shah changed tactics and declared Dhumal as the CM candidate, killing two birds with one stone. This makes the Himachal elections a contest between two powerful Thakurs, a community that constitutes 28 per cent of the state’s vote.
Once the surveys showed that most of the BJP candidates contesting the polls owed allegiance to Dhumal and his son Anurag Thakur, Shah defused any risk of discontent by naming Dhumal at a public rally. For this, he also had to junk the idea of keeping the slot open for Union minister J.P. Nadda, a Brahmin.
With all three regions strategically linked up and the pendulum swing factor that the state has been witnessing since 1985 favouring it, BJP insiders claim they are already counting Himachal in.
Virbhadra continues to steer Congress ship
The factors Congress is highlighting is the actual development work and projects undertaken by Virbhadra Singh. Himachal’s development and human indices are just a notch lower than Kerala and Delhi’s. A fact that Rahul harped on in his campaign — the Himachal model versus the Gujarat model.